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Following the writings of the prophet Jeremiah has been a challenge this year. So far, it’s been seventeen chapters of lament tempered by steadfast faith — along with words of judgment interspersed with glorious promises of restoration. It shouldn’t have surprised me then when Jeremiah 17 took a sharp curve in the road at verse nine: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”
Who indeed, for we are many things in addition to being “deceitful,” and our inability to know ourselves fully becomes readily apparent when we take it upon ourselves to know someone else in a meaningful way. Alice Fryling offers insights on how knowledge of the Enneagram can help us in sifting the motives of our hearts by understanding our own unique temperament — and maybe that of our loved ones as well.
Mirror for the Soul invites believers to connect the dots between self knowledge and the grace of God, for as we embrace our Enneagram number, we learn that we are more than just a package of gifts and failures. Alice shares her own self-discovery in this way:
“I am a person created by God, loved by God, and uniquely gifted to love others with God’s merciful and gracious love.”
Often what we lack in our efforts to change and grow is a language of transformation. Alice found this in her study of the Enneagram and holds it up to readers as a mirror to provide a clear view of ourselves, and as a corrective to the “puzzling reflection we have of our own lives.”
The Enneagram has hazy historical origins, but, then, so does the wheel. In the 1970s, Richard Rohr brought its teaching to laypeople, and since then, numerous authors have made it accessible as an aid to the Christian’s spiritual journey.
In my reading about the Enneagram, I’ve been eager to find a parking space that fits me so I could begin to understand my gifts and the reasons I get sidetracked. Mirror for the Soul has given me a different goal for this personality inventory. Why not slow down and live in a space, trying it on to see if it describes me? Then look at another one that might be a closer fit? Alice calls this “dating the Enneagram,” and recommends a meandering process of self-discovery, noticing what happens when you are under stress, and using the process to learn about yourself.
Nine Spaces and Nine Unique Perspectives
- A main attribute
- A compulsion of “the false self” whose agenda is to look good and to pretend
- A “grace given to that person as an invitation to return to the true self.”
I’ll clarify this using the Three as an example, because I think that’s my space: The main attribute of the Three is Effectiveness: I like to get things done. Ugly Deceit rears its head when I need to hide behind “success” in order not to be known as a failure. However, the path back to health is Truth: truth about myself, and Truth from God (in large doses, everyday).
The gift of the Enneagram is that there is no “right” space. The Two with their gift for loving is no more beloved than the Eight with their gift for power. Each space is vulnerable to hiding, but in different ways, and God invites each of the nine types to receive grace in order to become their true self.
Trying On the Triads
Alice Fryling’s approach to self-discovery within the Enneagram focuses first on the Triads or groupings of the nine spaces:
- The heart triad (2,3,4) lives life based on feeling.
- The head triad (5,6,7) lives life based on thinking.
- The gut triad (8,9,1) responds to life with their gut instinct.
It was this recommendation that sent me into “dating mode” with the Ennegram, because, although many of the traits of Three-ness line up with my tendencies, I typically function from the head rather than the heart. My love of books and knowledge lead me to wonder if I’m a five. I’m taking the author’s advice and looking at my motivations, life perspective, and instinctive responses to get closer to the bottom of this mystery.
Looking in the Mirror
For those who are on a quest for the transformation that comes with self-knowledge, Mirror for the Soul offers a number of practical principles and cautions:
Look to your weaknesses and motivations rather than behavior. Beware of your blind spots.
Since “the Enneagram is not in the business of giving out compliments,” (49) it is helpful to ponder the problems that come along with our gifts rather than focusing only on our gifting.
Spend some time attempting to understand the Wings and the Arrows.
Referring to the chart above, our Wings are the spaces on either side of us and influence each of us differently and to different degrees. For example, my bent toward quirky has led me to think that whether I’m a 3 or a 5, my wing is likely a 4.
Referring again to the chart, the Arrows pointing away from a number indicate where we tend to go in stress. Those pointing toward the number describe “how we are living when we are in a healthy place in our lives.” (109) With this in mind, it becomes clear that spaces in the Enneagram are not rigid boxes, which accounts for the uniqueness we see even among people who may share the same type. Alice speaks of being “at home” (107) in a space, and the more we understand ourselves and the Enneagram, the more likely this is to occur.
The So-What Factor
For the believer, greater self-awareness is not a narcissistic rabbit trail, but, rather, it leads to a greater capacity for loving relationships with others and deeper worship of God. The Enneagram invites us to wonder about addictive behaviors that keep sending us back to the same broken cisterns for satisfaction. It reveals suffering as a means to growth and transformation.
As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, and then ponder what we find in the mirror of the Enneagram, it would be tempting to despair, for we all have work to do. However, “the truth is that God is always waiting to be gracious to us and always ready to extend mercy.” This is good news as we boldly persevere in asking, “Who in the world am I?” and then live our way into our own unique journey of discovery in which we confront our sadness and frustration alongside our unique gifting and strengths and learn that the reflection gazing back at us belongs to a face that is deeply loved.
This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”